08 November 2007

Register of interests and PR woes

Journalist Michael Cross has proposed an interesting idea over on JournoBiz - namely that journalists should voluntarily declare on any conflicts of interest on a register. Much of the reading public is unaware that, for example, hacks writing travel features usually have their trips paid for by airlines and hotels or holiday companies, rather the costs being met by the publication.

The perks of the job can be amazing - or paltry. It depends what you write about. Hacks reviewing products of any description can expect to be given them for free, for keeps. A music journalist is highly unlikely ever to buy CDs. Motoring journalists often get a flash car to play with for a month or so before it goes back to the manufacturer. Reviewing vehicles virtually ensures you don't really need to buy your own.

Then there's the other end of the spectrum. Because of the kind of journalism I engage in, I rarely get freebies. In the last year, I've had about £200 worth of free VoIP kit, but that was only foisted on me by an anxious PR after I'd slated the company in print, in the hope that if I write about them again I'll be nicer. And that's it. Nothing else apart from a couple of free sex toys and two books!

I like the idea, though, of journalists being transparent about perks and conflicts of interest. Michael's aim is for it to operate along similar lines to that of the register of MPs' interests. I am following the debate on JournoBiz as it unfolds and if it ever gets off the ground I expect I'll sign up.

Elsewhere, I had a spectacularly stressful day thanks to a hapless PR. I had an afternoon deadline to file a feature and although I'd requested some statistics several days ago and they'd been promised by end of Wednesday, I still hadn't received them by noon. I was struggling to write my article without the info and spent ages on the phone and emailing. The flack kept saying I'd have them in 10 minutes and an hour would pass and there'd still be no stats.

Finally, I got the email, only for the most important stats I'd asked for to be missing. Another phone call, another hour... I eventually filed late, which I was not pleased about, although my commissioning ed was very understanding because I'd kept her informed of the problem.

When will PRs understand that it's essential to respect our deadlines and supply us with what we ask for? It took this one 4 whole days to come up with 5 lines of info, data that she could have supplied quickly and easily if she'd applied herself. Sigh. At least the other PRs I dealt with this week were a lot more helpful.

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